Letter: No specific offence of stalking

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The Independent Online
Sir: Your leading article "Arming women against stalkers" (30 January), calls on the Government to strengthen the law to protect people from stalkers.

We have already taken action by bringing in a tough new law, under the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, to tackle intentional harassment. This offence, which carries a maximum penalty of six months in prison or a pounds 5,000 fine, or both, is aimed at racial abuse but can apply to any form of harassment, such as stalking.

A specific offence of stalking would be difficult to prove and unlikely to result in convictions. Stalking can range from ostensibly harmless activities, such as sitting outside someone's house, to more serious action, such as threats and abusive telephone calls, which are already criminal offences.

There are real difficulties in extending the law without criminalising routine and essentially harmless behaviour, but we are not complacent. We want to offer as much protection as possible to the victims of this abhorrent behaviour.

That is why we are also examining the anti-stalking laws that exist in the US, Canada and Australia. We are looking carefully to see if there are any lessons to be learnt from the experiences of these countries to build on the powers our police already have.

We will continue to work with the police and other groups who have experience of dealing with cases of stalking in considering whether there might be any scope to improve the ability of the criminal law to deal with stalkers.

Yours faithfully,

Timothy Kirkhope

Parliamentary Under-Secretary

of State

Home Office

London, SW1

31 January